Video: Tom DeLay plays 'Hardball'

msnbc.com
updated 4/4/2006 8:17:09 PM ET 2006-04-05T00:17:09

Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay sat down with MSNBC's Chris Matthews for an interview on 'Hardball.' Here is an excerpt from the interview.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, "HARDBALL":  Last night around 9:30 I got a call on my cell phone from former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, saying he would be withdrawing from his re-election campaign in Texas. Today he made the formal announcement.    

If you had to point to one reason for your resignation from the House, which apparently you announced today, what would it be? 

REP. TOM DELAY, REPUBLICAN, TEXAS:  The Republican majority.  I’ve worked a long time building that majority, and helping build it, and working on it, and my constituents deserve a Republican to represent the 22nd District and now we’ll have one. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think you bet too much on the Republican Party?  I mean, you’ve given a lot.  You raised a lot of money for them. 

DELAY:  I believe in it.  I believe it’s the Republican Party that will advance the conservative cause, and that’s why I got into politics in the first place. 

Ronald Reagan enticed me as a Republican precinct chairman with only five Republicans in my precinct in 1976. 

MATTHEWS:  Ken Mehlman, the chairman of your party, said something pretty nice about you tonight and I think you’d have to respond to it:

“The essence of leadership is not just coming up with good ideas, it’s making those good ideas happen.  For the past two decades, Tom DeLay has tirelessly and successfully transformed very important ideas into very successful laws.  Conservative legislation from welfare reform and a balanced budget, to tax relief, education reform and a ban on partial-birth abortion all bear the signature of Tom DeLay.” 

DELAY:  Well, that’s very nice to say, but there were a lot of other Republicans that did that too. 

MATTHEWS:  Why wasn’t the president a little more outward in saying that kind of thing today when he was asked about your retirement? 

DELAY:  You’ll have to ask him that. 

MATTHEWS:  He said nothing.  I mean, I would be concerned if the president of the United States, whose legislation you put into action, had this to say about me,

“I had a talk last night on my way back from the ballgame with Congressman DeLay.  He informed me of his decision.  My reaction was it had to have been a very difficult decision for someone who loved representing his district in the state of Texas.  I wished him all the very best.  I know he’s looking to the future.”

He said nothing good about you.

DELAY:  That sounds good to me.

MATTHEWS:  What’s the good part?

DELAY:  I thought he was very gracious when we talked on the phone.  I was very proud of what he said.  I also talked to the vice president, and he was very gracious.

They know me, both men.  I’ve worked with both men for a long time.

MATTHEWS:  It just seems like they’re skipping away.

DELAY:  No, I think they have a little sadness about me leaving, and at the same time they’re not shocked for the reasons that I gave them, and they know that I can do more outside of the House right now than being locked in a reelection battle in Sugarland, Texas.

MATTHEWS:  Let me read you something.  I have no idea what you’re going to say to this.  These are the best questions, I have no idea what you’re going to say to Rick Scarborough. Do you know him?  He’s an evangelical minister.

DELAY:  He was a minister of the First Baptist Church.  A very dear friend of mine.  And he and I worked together to create Vision America.

MATTHEWS:  He said, “I believe the most damaging thing that Tom DeLay has done in his life is to take his faith seriously into public office, which made him a target for all those who despise the cause of Christ.  God always does his best work right after a crucifixion.”

I mean, he says that you were brought down by your faith.

DELAY:  No. I think I’ve been strengthened by my faith.  I think that probably was taken out of context. I know Rick. I was with him Saturday, and talked to him about this decision.  He’s a wonderful man, a great friend.  And he understands what I’ve been through.  And my faith has been strengthened.  I have matured as a Christian over these attacks. When you go through these kinds of things your faith is stronger than ever and you rely on the lord more than ever.

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe if you were a secular politician who had never expressed his religious faith that you would have been less of a target to the Democrats?

DELAY:  No.  I think I was a target of the Democrats for many reasons. 

We changed the culture of Washington, D.C., not just taking the majority.  We changed the culture of this town.  We changed the country, we’ve changed the world, having a Republican majority.

The Democrats and the left hate that.  Number one, they hate the fact that what they believe in has been rejected by the American people.  And secondly, they hate the fact that we are actually doing the things we told the American people we would do.

We’ve spent the last 10 years turning around 40 years of the left’s dominance of Washington, D.C., and the federal government.  And they knew as majority leader I was starting to lead us to do the things that conservatives have wanted to do all along.  Get rid of the tax code.  End abortion as we know it.  Hold the judiciary accountable.  Fight the war on terror.  All of those things are things that they just hate. 

I’m not whining.  They zeroed in on me and announced publicly that they were going to destroy me personally and destroy my character.  And they’ve tried for now 10 years, and they’re still losing.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I believe everything you say you believe in.  I think most people do, even those who don’t like you.  But there’s a contradiction in what you just said, Congressman. 

You said that you were giving up your seat because you were fearful that a loss of a Republican seat, which you believe you can save by giving it to another candidate, was critical.  And if you have won your battle for cultural change in Washington, why are the Democrats so close to taking back the House that one seat would make the difference?

DELAY:  No, it’s not one seat.  Every seat is precious, particularly when we have as small a margin as we’ve had to deal with over the last 11 years. And you have to deal with it that way.  It’s precious to the Republican majority and it’s precious to my constituents. 

My constituents deserve better and they deserve a Republican, not a liberal Democrat representing them.

MATTHEWS:  Let me talk to you about the topics you raised and I’m going to just raise them with you. Here's your chance to talk to a pretty good national audience tonight.  You were in the news.  You’re a news maker tonight. 

DELAY:  I didn’t notice. 

MATTHEWS:  You are.  There’s a lot of cameras in this room, in fact, more than usual. 

What are the stakes for the voter out there who is thinking about voting, personally, as a switch voter, back and forth voter, trying to decide which party to vote for this November?

I want to ask you, you know that one of the most powerful tools of the Congress is the subpoena power.  It’s in the hands of the Reform Committee; it’s in the hands of the Judiciary Committee. 

What would happen if Henry Waxman got the subpoena power in the Government Reform Committee?  What would happen if John Conyers of Michigan got the subpoena power?  Would they go after the president?

DELAY:  Sure, they would.  They’ve tried the whole time we’ve been in the majority, just look at what they’ve been doing. 

Henry Waxman is constantly calling for investigations, mostly frivolous investigations to make political points. 

John Conyers has even called for the impeachment of the president.  What do you think he’s going to do if he’s chairman of the Judiciary Committee? 

MATTHEWS:  You have an inside view, Congressman, of what they will do. 

I know their records.  I know their philosophies.

But you tell me, the man in the news today, do you believe that the Republicans, if they lose the House, will turn over the subpoena power to people who will try to impeach the president? 

DELAY:  Absolutely. 

John Conyers not too long ago held a mock meeting of all the left and talked about impeaching the president, and he’s called for impeaching the president.  Do you think when he gets the gavel as chairman of the Judiciary Committee he won’t try to impeach the president?  Of course he will. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think more modestly they might push for censure along the lines of Russ Feingold in the Senate?  Do you think they’re going to push for his head or just a big wound? 

DELAY:  I think they’ll try to go for his head. 

I think some of the more reasonable thinking Democrats will try to pull them down and away from walking off that cliff, but you’ve got to know these people. John Conyers is left of the left. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about something I know you care a lot about, and a lot of people watching do, which is abortion. 

Even a lot of people who oppose abortion legalization or oppose its de-legalization don’t like it.  Do you think if the Democrats get back in they’re going to push for reversing the ban on partial birth?

DELAY:  Absolutely. 

If you’re in charge, you’re going to advance your agenda.  And they’ll try to reverse everything that we’ve done, not just abortion. That's one of the regrets I have.  I wanted before I ended my career to end abortion as we know it.  And I’m not going to be able to do that.  I hope to work on it outside the House. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  That’s an open door.  I want you to talk about that door.  You mentioned that last night when you gave me the heads up.  You said although you’re leaving the House, you’re not leaving the conservative movement.  Tell me how you can work outside? 

DELAY:  Well, one of the things that this decision-making process showed me, that I have a lot of friends that are leaders of the conservative movement.  They value my talents and they listen to me, and I think I can work with them to unify the conservative movement. 

One thing that I’ve always been jealous of the Democrats on the left is that they work together.  I mean, you have pro-abortionists working for labor policy, you have labor unions working for abortion policy.  The greenies work for each other. 

We are fractured, and always have been fractured, mainly because we are individualists.  But I think I can be a unifying force.  I can speak out around the country about the conservative agenda.  And I’m looking forward to that.  I’m kind of excited about it.

MATTHEWS:  Can you do it without being the hammer?  Now that you’re a congressman, you can direct funds to people, you can direct legislative responsibilities to people, you can help people get better committee assignments or deny them re-upping. 

What can you do on the outside that enforces your will?  I’m serious.

DELAY:  The moniker “hammer” was given to me by the left, The Washington Post.

MATTHEWS:  But you love it.

DELAY:  No, I did things differently.  Because the Democrats operate that way, they assumed I did.  I invented what is called "grow the vote."  And it takes a lot more work.

MATTHEWS:  When I imagine you walking across the floor of the House to somebody you thought you had corralled, and they went the other way, were you smiling like that, when you walked across the floor? 

DELAY:  I just had to remind them, your word is everything in the House of Representatives and if you break your word, you need to be reminded of that. 

MATTHEWS:  Would you have done it all again? 

DELAY:  Absolutely.  There’s nothing I’d change. 

MATTHEWS:  But you’re facing, you know, these prosecutors with two of your former aides, who are out there plea bargaining Scanlon and this guy Rudy and Abramoff.  They're getting squeezed to give the big enchilada over.  Doesn’t that worry you? 

DELAY: Not at all, because I haven’t done anything wrong.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what are they giving to lighten their sentences, then, if they got nothing?  What are they offering up to the prosecutors? 

DELAY:  I don’t know.  But it isn’t me.  I had my lawyers spend all fall investigating me as if they were prosecuting me, and there is nothing there.  I haven’t talked to anybody in the Department of Justice.  I’ve turned over everything that I have that they may want to use in their investigation.  But I haven’t been subpoenaed.  My lawyers have been told I’m not a target of the investigation.  This is all guilt by association, driven by the left.

MATTHEWS:  I worked on the Hill years ago, and staffers were loyal to members.  Is the loyalty still there? 

DELAY:  Well, I’m really disappointed in Tony Rudy.  As you know, in a leadership office it’s a whirlwind all day long and I manage my office by trusting the people that I hired and put them in positions of responsibility.  Evidently they mishandled that trust and I’m very disappointed about it. 

MATTHEWS:  So if you did something wrong, you weren’t involved in it?

DELAY:  Exactly right. 

MATTHEWS:  How about Michael Scanlon?

DELAY:  Listen, this has been going on for 10 years.  I’m not stupid.  I have lawyers check everything that I do, every decision I do, every idea that I’ve had.  I have people check it and make sure that we’re within the law and within the House rules.

So you know, being under scrutiny that I’ve been under for 10 years, I would be absolutely the stupidest man in Washington, D.C., to do anything illegal.  

MATTHEWS:  Did you make some mistakes in hiring people like Mike Scanlon?

DELAY:  Yes, I did.

MATTHEWS:  What’s the character problem with these people?

DELAY:  I don’t know. 

MATTHEWS:  Do they just want a big-shot job so they can become a lobbyist fast?

DELAY:  Well, sometimes money overshadows your judgments, particularly the money that they’re talking about.  Power sometimes overloads people’s judgment.  But in this case I guess money overloaded it.

MATTHEWS:  What would you advise a new member of the House of Representatives to avoid the problems you’ve had, with all these people who are pointing their finger at you? You’ve got guys out there pointing the finger to save their butts.

DELAY:  Well, my advice is know what you believe in, stand up for what you believe in, and be honest and honorable about it. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Let me ask you about impeachment, because you were the ramrod. You accomplished what the Senate didn’t accomplish.  The Senate Republicans couldn’t get their act together one way or the other.  You had Arlen Specter who had the Scottish verdict, we don’t know what that is, even now. 

You had a House that was committed to the impeachment of Bill Clinton for acts of obstruction of justice and perjury, and you had it figured out.  And you got a majority to do it.  After all the bad election results in 1998, you still got it done.  Are you glad? 

DELAY:  I’m very glad.  The president lied under oath.  And there should be consequences for that.  And he got his consequences, and it’s impeachment. 

MATTHEWS:  His wife may be the next president.  Do you think his wife should bear some blame for making accusations like it was all a vast right wing conspiracy when her husband was caught lying? 

DELAY:  I would imagine in the upcoming presidential election, a lot of that will be discussed. 

MATTHEWS:  Will you discuss it? 

DELAY:  Certainly I will.  I was there, I know the history of it, and I hope I’m part of the next presidential election. 

MATTHEWS:  You know what blowback is in espionage?  It’s when something weird happens, when you were doing one thing and all of a sudden something comes back at you, and you try to deal with it.  

Do you think the fact that you were so successful with impeaching Bill Clinton, even though he wasn’t convicted by the Senate, that the Democrats, people like Conyers, won’t be coming back and trying to do it in that same spirit, and saying, “You did it to us, we’ll do it to Bush”?

DELAY:  I think they’ll do it because they don’t really care about the law, they care about politics and power.  What we cared about was the rule of law.

The president of the United States had broken the law, and he should suffer consequences for that.

MATTHEWS:  George Bush, in handling the NSA surveillance of data coming in and out of the country through al-Qaida or whatever, was obeying the law?

DELAY:  As far as I’m concerned it is.  Until somebody’s proven differently, it was obeying the law.  It’s not an impeachable offense, that’s for sure, it’s a political thing that the Congress needs to address.

MATTHEWS:  You’re a Christian. Do you believe that in the general judgment, when people are all called before God, that Democrats will be found one thing and Republicans will not? Because the way you talk sounds like there’s a moral difference between Republicans and Democrats in your profession of politics. You discuss them as if they’re morally inferior to you.

DELAY:  That’s not for me to judge.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Do you think that Republicans you’ve met in your career are more moral than Democrats?

DELAY:  No, I don’t.  There are some strong moral Democrats.

MATTHEWS: When are you going to leave Congress?

DELAY:  That’ll depend on the congressional schedule. 

MATTHEWS:  Why are you giving up your seat in the House, which you worked so hard for? 

I can understand why you’re not running again because of the poll data, but why don’t you stick it out and take the pay right through to January? 

DELAY:  I can’t be guaranteed that I can win.  I need to get out and help with the election and I need to get on with my life.

MATTHEWS:  But can’t you do more if you have access to the House floor? 

DELAY:  Not outside of leadership.  That’s been quite evident to me in the last couple of months that, you know, being a rank and file member, I’m not able to accomplish the things that I have been able to accomplish.

And I can accomplish those things outside of Congress, because I enjoy great support of the members and I can speak my mind and I can strategize, and that’s why I call this a victory. 

I’m going to get a Republican in the 22nd District, and the Democrats are going to see me at work again, doing the things that I do best.       

MATTHEWS:  Would you say that’s a factor that every time you’ve been in leadership, you can’t come back to the House and be a regular member, it doesn’t work? 

DELAY:  It just doesn’t work.  It’s not good for the present leadership.  Members use you outside of leadership to gripe about the present leadership. 

MATTHEWS: Do you think that the biggest case for the Republicans this fall in holding the Congress is what the Democrats would do if they got in?

DELAY:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  What’s the biggest case?       

DELAY:  The biggest case is what we’ll do for the future of this country.  And we’ve got to talk about bold initiatives, that we have the credibility, because we’ve shown that we will do it.

We’ve got to talk about getting rid of the tax code.  We have to talk about holding the judiciary accountable.  We have to talk about winning the war and protecting our borders and all those kinds of things.

And we have to do it in each district, giving each district a choice between the liberal Democrat and the conservative Republican, and do it by building a grassroots election in each district, like we used to do. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you going to campaign nationwide for the Republican majority? 

DELAY:  I hope so.  I hope I can get involved in specific districts.  We’ve shown a model in my primary of what needs to be done, and I hope to take that model and use it in other campaigns. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.

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